I have made it to Mandalay. It took about 15 hours of travelling in a small Ford Ranger. Roughly, and I do mean roughly, the first 5 hours were spent riding in the bed of the pickup truck with 7 others. One was Maung Maung Gyi while the other 6 were construction workers for 100 Schools. It was good fun with them, if a bit uncomfortable. Most of the time I did not understand anything being spoken, but MMG would help me out with the important jokes that were being made. The last 10 hours were spent in the cab of the truck, 1/2 riding shotgun and 1/2 driving. Driving in the dark on Myanmar highways is a very interesting proposition. Add to that lack of sleep and it is an outright adventure. We did make it in one piece at about 1:00 a.m.
Let’s backtrack a bit now. A few days ago, down in the delta, was the opening of the 50th school. It was a festive event that the entire village came to. There were also some very individuals including an actor and a renowned painter and tapestry maker named Sein Myint. Actually tonight I have been invited to accompany Sein Myint for supper and as he is a great person it should be very pleasurable. One thing that most fo the people have in common in this country is friendliness and a willingness to smile. Back to hte school opening, I was wearing a traditional Burmese dress shirt with a longyi and Mr. John was kind enough to lend me a local jacket too. It was good because it was only about 30*C on the day of the event. Upon arrival we were greeted by people with much love and appreciation. That quickly escalated into being “forced” to dance a traditional dance. Unfortunately it had been a long time since I had danced that particular dance and needed to try to follow along with the child of about 14 who was in front of me. Unfortunately, again, he was about 14 and had the energy of an adolescent. I am pretty sure it was the longest song ever written and by the end I was about to pass out. Fortunately it did draw to a conclusion and I was able to slink away before the next song started. Teh villagers did seem to enjoy the show, however and there may be some incriminating video showing up at some point. After that it was speeches by government officials, locals and Mr. John. After that was a meal of lovely, if not indeterminate, food and off onto the next phase.
The day after the opening we headed down from our hotel in Wakema to Pathein. Here we took a trip to determine the viability of building a school in another village. After driving through part of the village it was determined that a small bridge crossing a river would not allow our vehicles access. From here it was a short ride on the back of the motorbikes of some generous local gentlemen. The village has a fairly new elementary and high school buildings but the middle school is a wreck. There are 299 students from 9 villages that attend classes there and not enough toilets/outhouses either. This is all too common within Myanmar and also why we do what we do. After viewing the schools it was time to sit down and enjoy tea and a snack. everywhere we go tea/coffee and snacks are offered. The hospitality is amazing. Most of the time it is accompanied by individuals waving fans for cooling and fly control also. Teh next day we left Pathein and headed to where we are now, Mandalay.
Today Maung Maung Gyi drove me out to the school where the computer lab is going. It was about a 30 minute drive out side of Mandalay. Tomorrow I will have a driver and translator to escort me on this trip. There wasn’t much to do in the way of construction the lab today. It was important to check the electrical situation and get together with the carpenter who is building the table for the computers. That will be finished tomorrow evening and Friday the lab work will begin in earnest. Of course we did sit with the heads of the village for tea and snacks. It is intriguing to taste the different foods from the many areas visited. No two regions seem to be the same. Variety is the spice of life. And now I must get ready to go for supper for soon I will be leaving…Yangon with the Wind.
Ah the sounds of the city. I have been in Yangon for 2 days now and finding it a pretty interesting place. It is similar to other large cities in the fact that it is busy and very congested. Crossing the street is a lot like being the frog in the old Atari game Frogger. There are multiple ways to become injured. It is also a bit exhilarating too. Avoid certain death by running, darting, jumping and twisting. It is a dance with death I suppose. Well that is a bit over dramatic, but hey that’s what I do.
Yesterday was my first day here and it was spent meeting up with John and Maung Maung Gyi from 100 Schools. We walked around and had lunch with some other donors from Singapore. We tried to go to a craft market which was closed due to a National holiday. Later we went to happy hour for a couple of beers and in bed by 9:00. It was a much needed slumber indeed. The entire day was a blur…not just after happy hour.
Today was an early rise and down to breakfast in the hotel I am staying, the New Aye Yar. Breakfast comes in the price of the room and is actually quite nice. It is not your usual continental breakfast. The buffet style setup has several options including curries, noodle soup, a type of rice pudding and a young man making omelets. The coffee is also how I like it, very dark and sludgy.
After breakfast it was off to the market that was closed yesterday. The Scott Market is a tourist based market that is pretty expansive. I was there looking for more handy crafts to take back to sell to raise money for building schools. There are hundreds of stalls selling a vast array of items. Things from silk scarves and bolts of cloth to jade bracelets and wooden elephants. I would like to purchase many of these wares, however I have no idea how to tell a real gemstone or even if an amber necklace is real. Are those real pearls or diamonds? Yes they tell me. Hmmm, still not convinced. When I go back to purchase items it will most likely be items made of jade and tiger’s eye. Pretty sure I can tell those….
After the market it was time to source out the rest of the gear I needed for the computer lab. This I did at a shop called KMD. I am waiting for a quote by email to determine if it is going to work out. They have a store in Mandalay also which will work out perfectly as I won’t have to transport anything on the 8-9 hour trip up.
tomorrow I will be heading down the the delta south of Yangon to attend the opening of the 50th school and enjoy the festivities that come along with it. This evening, however, visiting the Shwedagon Pagoda is on the docket. This is the most important pagoda in the country and is apparently an amazing place to visit. I’m in.
It is now time to head back out into the hustle and bustle of Southeast Asian city life. Beep-Beep-Honk-Honk!
Tired, very tired. This blog is going to have its beginnings on the lower lever, more accurately the sub-level of the Beijing airport. Waiting in terminal E57 waiting for flight CA905 to Yangon. It will be my first trip to Yangon and the second time in Myanmar. The flight from Vancouver was roughly 11 hours and trip on the ferry nearly two hours before that. It was a dark and stormy morning…maybe I should have led with that opening. All of this is irrelevant, however.
The main objective of this trip is to set up a computer lab in the village of Daw Hut Taw outside of Mandalay. This is the pilot project to what will hopefully expand to deploying labs in all of the schools which have been built by the 100 Schools Project. One goal in Yangon is to source out some components for the computer lab. These are a UPS, monitors, keyboards, mice and probably a 3g router. There will be no internet at the school and I am hoping that a 3g router on the wireless network will open up communication channels moving forward. I will also be in attendance for the opening of the 50th school built by 100 Schools. These schools have been build with financial aid from UR Building Knowledge along with several other generous groups. I would recommend checking out the websites for more information.
There is no need to source out computers for this first lab because they flew with me in my carry on bag. No this is not the carry-on type that you may see when someone is trying to stuff all their luggage into the overhead compartment. This bag is a single backpack used for day hiking. Stored within my Kelty Redwing 3100 (thanks Mom and Dad) are 8 computers with cases and power supplies for each. All in original packaging and boxes. How is this possible you may ask? Or even if you don’t I will tell you. The computer lab will consist exclusively of Raspberry Pi 3’s.
A Raspberry Pi 3 is a single board computer with the form factor of a credit card. Aboard this computer is a quad-core 1.2 GHz ARM processor, 1 GB Ram, wifi, bluetooth, 4 x USB 2.0 ports and a 10/100 ethernet connection. It is powered by a 5.2V 2.4A micro-usb power supply (think Android phone charger) and has HDMI out.
That may be a bit too far into the weeds, but the point is that it is an affordable way to create a viable learning experience. I have been working with some of the individuals behind XSCE/Internet-in-a-Box to develop a content server to make information available offline. The server I brought, made from a Raspberry Pi contains about 60 GB of data which is accessed via the web browser from other Raspberry Pi’s used as clients.
Okay, my eyeballs are about to start bleeding as exhaustion and a month straight of screen time working on getting this project up and running are starting to set in. As this is my first blog I am not sure how long or interesting it is supposed to be. I have a feeling it is too long in length and too short in interesting.
Please leave a comment with feedback if you are interested in more information or another post in the future. And now onto the next leg of the journey.